I left the convent five years ago. It was still Advent. Christmas never came to my heart that year. The sense of a perpetual, watchful waiting for the “what next?” was far from comforting.
Like many, if not most of you reading this blog, I have asked God why He would call me into that life, only to call me out and back into the restlessness of the world that I once knew. It still makes no sense to me. Countless times I asked why He changed His mind, but I couldn’t hear an answer.
It took five years to hear an answer, and it came through the fire in an old fireplace.
If Moses found God in the burning bush, I can say found Him in the request of a priest to “keep the fire going.” And like Moses, I had little idea about where the answer to the call would lead.
It was the last night before the end of an extended weekend retreat. I was enjoying the crackling sound of the wood burning in the fireplace of the old house that quietly saves the story of that sacred place. In the burning silence of that evening, my mind couldn’t help but wander into memories of being a postulant and enjoying the novelty of a real and old fireplace at the Sisters’ retreat house.
The fire had been started by one of the priests directing the retreat, but he had to step away and needed for someone to keep vigil. I happen to be there accompanied by another retreatant. He turned around, asked us to “keep the fire going,” and left. My eyes wandered around studying the scene in front of me, planning on how to engage and respond to the request to keep the fire going. Whispering, the other retreatant acknowledged that she had no clue about how to keep the fire alive, but she volunteered to bring in the wood from the pile outside.
While she did that, I played around with the instruments at hand, and made sure to be successful at my entrusted task. In my mind, I was to keep the fire alive for the benefit of all retreatants present that night. Eventually, I would have to leave my task to participate in a healing service that would soon start in the chapel, so somebody else would have to keep the fire if they wanted.
Little did I know that what I had done by adding wood to the fire until I walked away would keep it alive until the moment when it would be needed in the healing service.
The retreat director announced his plan for the service. After some singing and praying, we were to respond to some questions on a sheet of paper, walk to the fireplace, and offer our writing in the fire. Ah… that’s why the fire was needed. The fire was needed for the healing.
Father didn’t have to explain why it was important to keep the fire going when he asked me to do so. He just asked, and two of us responded—not knowing how to perform the task fully, and not knowing why we were entrusted with such task.
I found some peace in this experience. While I continue without an answer for why God called me into religious life only to call me out again very soon, I trust that in my responding wholeheartedly to His request, I was instrumental in Him accomplishing something for myself and for others.
I just have to trust that this is true—just as it was true that I needed to keep the fire alive that night. Rather than continuing to ask the question without an answer, I trust that God will reveal Himself at the right time. I just need to keep the fire going.
May you have a blessed Advent. May you find peace in the fire that burns within you.